There are a lot of classic cuts for steak — ribeyes, New York strips, and the like. But if you’re looking for an alternative that’s more affordable and quite versatile for use in other recipes, I’d suggest you take a closer look at the Denver steak.
In this guide, we’ll explore the history and name of the Denver steak before moving onto the best cooking methods for it, a bit about its nutritional value, recipes that make great use of Denver steak, and where to buy it (or similar cuts). By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be fully in the know on why this affordable steak cut should become a staple in your kitchen.
What Is Denver Steak?
Also known as the zabuton or underblade steak, you wouldn’t have been able to order a Denver cut steak 20 years ago. That’s not because cows suddenly grew a new part — it’s because the name Denver steak only came about in 2009, as a marketing effort from the Beef Checkoff Program.
The Denver steak comes from the square cut chuck primal. That’s usually not a particularly desirable area for tender, juicy steaks because of its heavy muscling. But since the Denver steak comes from the center under the shoulder blade, it’s used more as a support muscle. As a result it’s extremely tender, with good marbling and beef flavor. And though it doesn’t have a fat cap, it carries a flavor very similar to a New York strip — at about 2/3 of the price.
What Are the Best Ways to Cook Denver Steak?
Four cooking methods stand out as being great matches for the beefy, marbled flavor of Denver steak:
- Grilling. Denver steak is perfectly suited for backyard barbecuing, and will grill up tender and juicy over a high flame.
- Sautéing/pan broiling. Use a heavy-bottomed cast iron skillet, and you can get a similar flavor to grilling while staying in the comfort of your home.
- Stir frying. Sliced into thin strips, Denver steak is perfect for Asian beef preparations like Korean bulgogi beef (be sure to get a good stir fry sauce).
- Broiling. Superheat a cast iron pan, then sear your steak with the help of a 500 degree oven.
The only cooking method I would recommend avoiding is slow roasting. While Denver steak would taste just fine in a slow cooker, you’ll lose out on a lot of its desirable texture. Plus, there are more affordable meats that benefit more from the tenderizing that slow roasting offers.
Denver Steak Nutrition Facts
Because it lacks the rich fat cap of other prime steak cuts, Denver steak is actually a fair bit healthier than its counterparts. According to Nutritionvalue.org, this is how Denver steak measures up per 4 oz portion:
- 192 calories
- 11 grams of fat, with 4.7 grams of saturated fat
- 78 milligrams of cholesterol
- 87 milligrams of sodium
- 22 grams of protein
- 15% daily value of iron
- 8% daily value of potassium
In addition, Denver steak is very rich in B vitamins and essential minerals like phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. All said and done, that makes this quite a healthy cut when compared to other red meats.
Denver Steak Recipes
Now that you know a little bit more about the cut, let’s take a look at three Denver steak recipes — a traditional grill with a slight twist, the most flavorful London broil you’ll ever have, and a Korean take on stir-fried beef.
How to Grill Denver Steak
Grilling the perfect steak starts with choosing a great cut — and Denver steak is perfect for it. Since it doesn’t have excess fat, you can skip the trimming step and simultaneously avoid big flareups on the grill.
Now I’d like to share a steak grilling secret from my time working in an upscale Southern BBQ restaurant: Salting your steaks will take them from good, to great, to magical. Use a teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of steak, and rub it on both sides of the cut. Then, put it in your refrigerator for at least a few hours — I like salting my steak in the morning, and grilling it for dinner. As the salt settles in, it will change the protein structure of the beef, yielding a perfect sear once it hits the grill.
Then when you’re ready to grill, create a two-section grilling surface. Whether you’re using charcoal, gas, or wood, one side of your grill should be screaming hot, and the other should be just warm. Sear your Denver steaks for a minute on each side of the meat, flipping regularly to achieve an even cook all the way through.
Where does the cool side of the grill come in? It’s all in the texture and doneness you’re aiming for. With a little practice, you’ll be able to see when your steak has a perfect sear on both sides — browned, but not quite blackened. Then, simply transfer it to the other side, where residual heat will continue cooking it without charring.
Finally, rest your steak for at least 10 minutes after it comes off the grill. Then, consider slicing it (with the grain) and giving it a final dusting of sea salt to really bring out its full flavors, then serve with your favorite steak sides!
London Broil with Denver Steak
Though London broil was originally made only with flank steak, the popularity of this dish led to its adoption as a cooking method for any cut of beef. It’s a fantastic way to get a rich, caramelized flavor without having to get a fire going on the grill — making it my first choice for preparing Denver steak in the cold months of the year.
For this recipe, you’ll need a cast iron pan and your oven rack positioned on its lowest setting. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (or broil, if it has that setting), and put the cast iron pan on your stovetop over a medium high flame.
Rub your Denver steak with salt and pepper, then throw it into the superheated pan. It will smoke after just a few seconds, and this is your cue to transfer it to the oven. Cook for 4 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove it from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest for 5 minutes.
Slice thinly against the grain, and you’ll have a beautifully medium-rare London broil ready to be paired with mashed potatoes and greens.
Korean Bulgogi Beef
Thin-slicing beef before adding a super flavorful marinade and stir frying it is a traditional Korean cooking method known as “bulgogi”. In Korean restaurants, the steak is delivered raw to the table, and guests cook their own beef on a superheated grill in the center of the dining table!
And because it is both affordable and nicely marbled, Denver steak is a fantastic cut for making bulgogi-style beef.
Start by freezing your Denver steak for 30 to 40 minutes — just enough to firm it up. Then slice it against the grain into the thinnest strips you can manage and set it in the fridge.
While I’m usually a huge fan of making all my own sauces, We Rub You’s bulgogi marinade is the real deal. It’s made by two Korean sisters living in New York City, and carries all the traditional flavors with no unnecessary ingredients. Made primarily of soy sauce, it’s then augmented with sesame seeds, onion, garlic, vinegar, and concentrated apple juice — creating a perfectly balanced, intensely flavored sauce.
Heat a wok or sauté pan over high heat, add a few drops of sesame oil, then quickly sauté the thin strips of beef. After about two minutes, add a generous helping of the bulgogi sauce to bring the flavor together, cook for one more minute, then transfer to a plate.
Paired with kimchi and Bibb lettuce leaves, this makes for an extremely satisfying and quick to make weeknight dinner.
Other Cuts Similar to Denver Steak
The flavor and affordability of Denver steak mean that you may have trouble finding it at your local butcher shop. Why? Because it’s becoming so popular, it’s often sold out! So here are a few alternatives to Denver steak, with notes on what they’re best used for:
Under Blade Roast
Cut from the same area as a Denver steak, the under blade roast is a beautifully marbled (if somewhat tough) cut of beef. It’s excellent for slow roasting, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for grilling as a steak. Fantastic for pot roasts, where you can surround it with stock, seasoning, and vegetables to pump its flavor up a notch.
Deeply flavorful and quite affordable, flank steak is an excellent low cost cut of beef. It suffers from being chewier than many people enjoy, which is why it’s often given a long marinade and then tenderized before grilling. Excellent for making fajitas, it can also do quite well as a substitute for Denver steak in the Korean bulgogi beef recipe listed above; just be sure to give it an extra long marinade in the sauce.
Chuck Eye Steak
Also known as a Delmonico steak, chuck eye is a great low cost beef cut for grilling. It’s richly marbled and tender, and like the Denver steak, it lacks a fat cap. That’s why it’s my go-to alternative for weeknight grilling if the butcher is out of Denver steak.
Where to Buy Denver Steak
The first place you should look for a Denver steak is at your local butcher’s. The fresher the better, and it’s hard to get much fresher than right in your own town. Plus, you’ll receive the added benefit of making a relationship with your butcher — which can lead to them putting aside your favorite cuts before anyone else can scoop them up.
Of course, you may not have a local butcher to visit. Or worse yet, they may not stock Denver steak! If that’s the case, I have two websites that I can recommend buying from:
Porter Road is a Nashville-based butcher shop that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in person. And I can tell you from experience, their dry-aged beef is some of the best I’ve ever had. Their Denver steak is exceptionally well-priced, and ships without having ever been frozen — guaranteeing the freshest meat possible. Porter Road receives my top recommendation for mail-order beef.
The Organic Butcher makes a fascinating alternative, though: Wagyu Denver steak. Deeply marbled and definitely pricier, it’s a real luxury treat that’s perfect with a quick sear on the grill.
No matter where you get your Denver steak, you’re now well prepared to make the best of it! Good luck, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about how to grill your steaks.
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